By Jason Keidel
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It becomes gratuitous, redundant, ridiculous. But we must. Because he won’t let us leave him alone.
As always, there’s the irony and tragedy and reality that Alex Rodriguez, like his bulging brethren Barry Bonds and (allegedly) Roger Clemens, didn’t need the juice to be great. Marginal talents like Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa needed alchemy to fuel their anemic bats; A-Rod has been a beast since the first hair sprouted from his breast.
But now, with the scandal mushrooming from South Florida, an obscure lab has become the epicenter of the worst doping scandal in American history. And if A-Rod cares at all about how he will be remembered, he will find it rather forgettable. But there’s little reason to think he does care, which makes him a joke. Or does it?
Indeed, the joke is on us, the ones who pay the freight. Despite what the players, announcers, and cable entities tell us, that we should be honored by them when the reverse is true, we are the reason they exist, subsist, and now resist the notion that their rampant mendacity borders on the criminal.
But why would A-Rod care? He banks a half-billion at our expense, and if his already stained legacy is smeared well, then that’s just the cost of doing dubious business. Is he a fool? Depends on your definition. There’s clearly no shame in his game, but ample shame in his name. But does he care? The next few months will say way more than another synthetic home run, boosted by PED, HGH, and an annex of acronyms that we’ve inhaled over the last decade, making us accidental, amateur medics.
If Alex Rodriguez had a modicum of dignity and nobility he would retire today. Release the Yankees of the financial anvil around their necks, release us of the perfunctory, disingenuous cheers when he limps to the batter’s box, his hips like a cadaver, to gag again in a big spot, to collect a check cut under the falsest of pretenses, to end this specious bond between a fan base that never really wanted or welcomed him in the first place, and from a gritty team trying to win a pennant the honest way, with more guts and guile than gravitas.
The ghosts left when the Yankees coldly pummeled the old park, dumped into the dustbin of nostalgia, where they drew 4 million fans without the gaudy, theme-park accoutrements. Yankee Stadium was the last place that had soul, that was true to the old-world ethos of a blue-collar game.
A guy takes his kid to a ballpark, not just any ballpark, but the progenitor of our pastime, where Babe Ruth swung a bat in 1923 and Derek Jeter did the same in the same spot 80 years later. During the dynastic years that experience could cost a hard-hat dad fifty bucks. Now he’s lucky if he can pay his rent, ten-buck beer and hot dog in the same month. In a very real sense the Yankees and A-Rod deserve each other. But you don’t deserve him.
I heard a host make a salient point about we who worship sports. There’s a difference between a smart fan and a true fan. The true fan thinks it’s fine when Carmelo takes 35 shots with one assist, that Mark Sanchez can throw three picks because he went to the AFC title game three years ago, that Jose Reyes can sit out his final game as a Met after one swing because he refused to risk his batting title, that Mike Tyson can take the term “lend me your ear” too literally. Because we’re “true” fans.
And it’s okay for A-Rod to dope because everyone else was doing it. And we’re just picking on A-Rod because we’re hating on A-Rod. And we’re hating on A-Rod because we’re envious of A-Rod. He’s got the women, money, looks, and luxury most men would kill for. The smart fan will boo the shamed former shortstop into oblivion, will burn their No. 13 jerseys, will boycott a product sold to us as one thing and then became something entirely different.
The smart fan will stop excusing the inexcusable, be it allegedly from A-Rod or Ryan Braun. (By the way, are you still lamenting the loss of Jesus Montero? It seems the former, “Can’t Miss” prospect, who’s plunging batting average is now highlighted by his appearance on Anthony Bosch’s reported VIP doping list.)
Has A-Rod “earned” his money? You bust your onions every day just to pay the very cable bill that feeds YES Network, and lines A-Rod’s bulging pockets. Yet he’s the one who can buy his way into every nook of the patriciate, the money and marble of Madison Avenue. Sports were supposed to be the one place where justice in some measure was served, in the cold calculus of the final score and statistics. Now the record books have been synthesized beyond repair, led by the beloved A-Rod.
At some point people like A-Rod lose the line between those who fly a Learjet around the world and those of us who live in it. That moment came a long time ago for Rodriguez, probably somewhere between Miami and Texas, when he was a Mariner, trying to prove his wares like an honest man.
By the time he hired Scott Boras and bilked the Texas Rangers he was part of the problem, of the avaricious apparatus that kills the purity of sport, of rampant capitalism, Gordon Gekko gone wild, where he became the best player on the worst team. The symbolism was perfect, because he was the quintessential mercenary in a profession that promotes the me-first mantra.
The A-Rod apologist, like other garden-variety sucker, will flip the script and deflect, flexing their fingers at Bosch, Bud Selig, Congress, and other conspirators rather than look at their beloved baseball deity. No matter the confluence of circumstances, Alex Rodriguez brought every ounce of this pressure upon himself.
If you think for a second he cares about you, is grateful for you, then you can’t be convinced. He is the best and worst of sports, with a hearty helping of the latter for the last decade. Now he will be remembered almost entirely for jamming needles into his tan tush, firing equine potions that would make Secretariat blush. And that’s all on him.
Sure, the steroid problem is bigger than Alex Rodriguez. But he’s the de facto face of it. Some of that is accidental; some is occidental; some is inevitable. It’s fitting that the biggest name in baseball, playing for the biggest team in baseball, the richest team in baseball, the winningest team in baseball, has a contract swathed in incentives for varrious home run marks, conceived in veracity, served in mendacity.
We couldn’t wait for A-Rod to replace Barry Bonds on the home run list, to laud the legend who finally brought clean veins to the game. Then there was Katie Couric. Then there was Selena Roberts. Then there was his awkward, fumbling press conference, his tongue tripping over semantic speed bumps, festooned with obscure cousins and conduits in the Dominican Republic, abstract substances, like “boli,” regrets and promises and pseudo-enlightenment.
He dabbled near Dallas, you see, when he was young and dumb and experimenting. Now he’s old and dumb and done. And if we ever cheer this man again, we will be right behind him.
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